Creating a Life-Giving Home

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During the holiday season, we always hear about going home or other family members coming home. It got me thinking about what home really means. I read a wonderful book by Sally Clarkson before Trevor’s death called A Life-Giving Home. Doing just that became vital after Trevor’s death.

Why is home so important? We all need a place we can come to to find refuge and strength in the midst of life’s storms. There are days when our lives will leave us battered and bruised, and we all need a place to come to where we find unconditional love and acceptance. We all need a place of comfort and peace. Home can provide just that. Home can give us consolation after a difficult day, a loving embrace in the wake of tragedy, or a celebration after a victory. We all need what home provides for our soul.

Home isn’t just about decorating or sculpting the perfect Pinterest-worthy room. It’s about the feeling it provides for those in it. It’s true that our surroundings can provide beauty and comfort, but it’s more about the heart than it is the aesthetics of the home. You can have the most beautiful home and it still feel empty and cold. A home is built with love, specifically the love of Christ.

If you find yourself alone this holiday or if your home feels broken beyond repair, take heart. Christ lived and did ministry with no home to lay his head so that, through faith in him, we could always have a home with our heavenly Father. A true, personal relationship with Christ gives us a home so that we’re never truly alone. Through Jesus, our homes can always be restored and redeemed.

Whether your heart is full this Thanksgiving or you’re struggling just to make it, remember that God loves you and has a plan for your life. You can always come home to him and have a home with him.

We strive to create a home that offers life to those in it while we are here on this earth. However, these homes pale in comparison to the heavenly place our Lord and Savior has promised he’s preparing for us. This Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful for that home we will enjoy for all eternity.

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Making the Holidays Happy Again

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Christmas is hard. It’s bittersweet at best, and terribly painful at worst once you’ve lost someone you love. It’s a reminder of what you once had and what you won’t ever have again. As you see blissfully happy families and couples everywhere, how do you enjoy the holidays again?

First of all, I encourage you to remember what the holidays are truly about. Thanksgiving doesn’t really have to do with pigging out on a turkey feast. It means giving thanks to God in the middle of life. When we can praise God in the midst of tragedy, maybe we are closer to the true meaning of this holiday. At Christmas, we can remember that while we may have lost someone we love and life may be chaotic and difficult sometimes, Christ came to this earth to redeem and restore us. He came so death doesn’t have the final say. That’s the hope of Christmas.

The next thing I would say is do things that make you happy. I love decorating my house for Christmas. You can find sales at craft stores and inexpensive decorations at Wal-mart and dollar stores. Sometimes, surrounding yourself with pretty things is helpful to getting through a difficult time like the holidays. If you like Christmas lights (like I do!), round up that ten-year-old who’s rolling his eyes at you and drag that teenager away from his phone or video game for a minute and make them go with you. They’ll secretly enjoy it, and they can also be easily bribed with treats at the end. I also love to read Christmas stories and books to my kids, even if they don’t appreciate it. Christmas movies are always fun too. My daughter and I have already had way too much fun sipping hot chocolate while we watch Hallmark movies.

I have found it’s helpful to keep some of your old traditions but also to start new ones. Ask your kids which ones are meaningful to them as you make these choices. You may be surprised at which ones they enjoy and remember.

Do an advent devotional with your kids. It’s always good to remind them too of what the season is really about. Also, if you have older children, let them know it’s OK if they feel sad at times during the holidays. You can even ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them through this time besides praying for them.

It’s also OK to say no to events that will cause you undue stress or pain during the holidays. Don’t feel like you have to do everything. Depression and anxiety can get worse if you wear yourself out.

Sweet friend, go get some coffee, prop your feet up, and watch a good Christmas movie. I’m praying that the holidays can become a happy time again for you as you celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.

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Redemption and Restoration

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I have clung to 1 Peter 5:10 since losing Trevor. Why? Because it’s a promise. A promise that, at some point after suffering, God will restore us, strengthen us, and establish us. A sweet friend from our language school in Costa Rica actually had an artist friend hand-paint the verse for me, and I have it framed in my bedroom. On the hard days, it’s a reminder of what God has already promised he will do, and when God makes a promise, he will always bring it to pass.

The difficult part is timing. He doesn’t tell us when. In fact, there’s no guarantee it will even happen in this lifetime. I wish I could promise that he will restore you and redeem your pain soon. He very well might. However, we don’t know that. That’s where faith comes in. We trust that he will, but in his timing, not ours.

Joseph was restored and became leader of all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Abraham didn’t live to see the fruition of all God’s promises to him. In fact, his descendants are continuing even today, but he couldn’t see nearly all of the picture while he was alive. Job was restored after his suffering, but the prophets of the Old Testament didn’t live to see the coming Messiah they wrote about. I share these examples because some people will see redemption and restoration abundantly in this life…and some won’t. Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose.

This doesn’t sound like good news. I wish I could hold your hand and look you in the eyes and tell you everything is going to be OK. Simply put, once you’ve lost big, your future will always look different than you thought it would. It can still be good though. If we have trusted in Christ for salvation, we can still see hope and still choose joy, even when life is hard. We know that things will somehow be OK because God has a plan that is far greater than we could imagine.

In the meantime, during this in-between season, be intentional about seeing God’s hand in your life. Write down gifts each day from him. They can be major things like the salvation of a family member or minor things like being able to sleep through the night without a kid waking you. This intentional act of being thankful can help us be grateful even when life is hard.

Sweet friend, know that God is always with you, and in all of his abundant goodness and grace, he will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. May that be our prayer today and every day.

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The Struggle is Real: An Honest Look at Anxiety and Depression

It’s a subject no one really wants to talk about. We whisper about it. We know it exists, but no one wants to acknowledge it. It’s hard, but we struggle with it behind closed doors. Here’s the truth: we’ve all lost something, and with loss, comes grief. Some of you, like me, have lost a husband. Some have lost a child. You may have lost a job or a friend. We’ve all lost or had to modify dreams. When we lose, we hurt.

I’m not much of a numbers person, but I think they’re important to emphasize a fact here. 15 million people in America struggle with depression, and most of them are women. However, only about a third of those people will actually get help with their depression. One in every four women will suffer from major depression at some point in their life. We don’t want to talk about it, but depression is real; many women struggle with it at some point in their life.

Depression isn’t just sadness. It’s lack of energy, trouble sleeping, and loss of interest in the things we previously found joy in doing. It may include frequent crying, but it can also include irritability. We may overindulge in food or we may lose our appetite. It may be hard to concentrate. Depression doesn’t necessarily look the same in every person.

Anxiety is often linked to depression because worrying about things can naturally lead to depression. Many people struggle with both. In fact, more than 18% of people struggle with anxiety. Again, women are twice as likely to struggle with it as men, but yet, only a third of people seek help with anxiety. We’ve been taught and trained that women can do it all, and the truth is that we can’t, at least not long-term. Eventually, we break down. If you’ve lost a spouse, like me, you may have tried to do everything you used to do AND everything your husband used to do. Then, I wonder why I am so exhausted all the time.

I struggled with both depression and anxiety in the early days after losing Trevor, but even now, I still struggle with depression. I wish we would all be more open about the fact that it’s OK to not be OK. In fact, I quit taking an antidepressant at one point and a few months later, I decided I needed to go back on it. Life is hard, and it’s OK to get help if it helps you to be a better woman and a better mom. Counseling can be helpful. Exercise can be helpful. A regular bedtime and waking up time can be helpful.  Getting your thoughts down on paper (or a computer) can help. The point is, it’s OK to be intentional about doing things that help you to cope with the up’s and down’s of life.

Let me encourage you if you’ve ever struggled with or are struggling now with anxiety or depression. There’s not “something wrong” with you. We don’t have to hide what we’re going through, and we can certainly be open in prayer with God about how we feel. He knows anyway, and he wants us to come to him with our pain. In fact, he tells us to do just that. He wants to carry our burdens because he cares for us. When we go through the valley, he doesn’t promise a quick fix, but he does promise us his presence. Always. And he never, ever breaks his promises. In fact, David struggled with depression. We can tell from the words of his psalms. He says in Psalm 42:6, “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you.” In the very next psalm, he asks why he goes around mourning. It’s not wrong to feel depressed, but during these times, we must cling to the promises of God and stand on the truth of His word, even when we don’t feel it. If you struggle with depression or anxiety, don’t trust or depend on your feelings; trust and depend on the word of God. If we speak truth to our heart through daily reading of the Word, through prayer, and through other believers, that truth will eventually seep back into the fibers of our soul. Until then, know that our Lord is holding you, and he will never, ever leave you alone.

 

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Choose Happy

 

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What do you do when you’re in the middle of hard, and you can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel? You are overwhelmed with responsibilities during the day and constantly feel distracted because you are juggling so many things. You lie in bed at night, second guessing everything you do and recounting your failures. You end each day spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. What do you do when life doesn’t seem to be getting better? Choose to have a happy ending.

 It’s difficult when the end isn’t in sight, and we don’t know how everything will turn out. It’s now that we must trust God. In the Message, 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that “it’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going.”  We will believe even though we can’t see the end yet. We must fight for joy each day, in the midst of the hardship and pain. We plant our feet and claim God’s promises. We decide that our husband’s death wasn’t the end of our story but rather the opportunity for a new beginning. It’s not easy when we didn’t want a new beginning or a new story. We must remind ourselves that God is making us new, and that these trials are achieving something. Tell yourself right now, as often as necessary, that you WILL have a happy ending. I’m not sure what that will look like for you. I’m not sure what that will look like for me, but someday, somehow, God will give us a happy ending. 1 Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

 Sweet friend, through the loss of our husbands, God is teaching us a whole new level of faith. We’ve experienced strength and grace from the Lord that we didn’t even know was possible. It’s still hard, but let’s plunge headfirst into this new life that God has given us. It may be messy, and it may be a little crazy, but let’s choose to make the most of it.  We will say to the Lord, “This is hard and chaotic and uncertain, but I will keep pressing on and keep pressing into you because I trust you.” 

 My kids have a tendency to whine and complain. Can you relate? I always tell them they can concentrate on the negative, or they can look for the positive. You will find what you look for. Look for the positive. Trust that life will become easier, better. We will get our happy ending, even though we don’t know what that will look like exactly. In the meantime, forge ahead without giving up. Do things for yourself to keep you going. Take heart. The best is yet to come.

 P.S. My counselor told me about Christian meditation. It’s something that can help you slow down and unwind for a few minutes. If you don’t know where to start, subscribe to a podcast called “Revelation Wellness.” The ones that say “Be Still and Be Loved” are the meditation podcasts. Give them a chance. They seem a bit weird at first, but it really is relaxing to listen to Scripture as you breathe deeply. Even if your children are yelling in the background. Enjoy.

Putting Out Fires

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Every summer, I enjoy my precious bit of free time by reading a few books merely for enjoyment or my own knowledge.  I like reading other people’s stories or losing myself momentarily in a work of fiction. 

I’m currently reading a book called Little Fires Everywhere.  It’s been good so far.  I feel as if that title describes my life most of the time.  I am constantly putting out fires everywhere.  Breaking up a fight between two boys.  Cleaning up a mess that Bo made.  Hurrying the kids into the car because we’re running late to a dentist appointment. 

It’s exhausting being a solitary firefighter, but God can also use the fires in our life to reveal to us his presence.  Moses had been in the wilderness of Midian for forty years.  Growing up in an Egyptian palace, this was probably not how he imagined his life would be like.  However, God spoke to him from a burning bush and used him to deliver the nation of Israel.  The people would wander in the desert for forty years because of their sin, but God lead them by night with a pillar of fire. 

You may be in a wilderness yourself right now.  Legal struggles with no end in sight.  Financial difficulties that don’t seem to ever get better.  Battles with depression or anxiety or insomnia or all of them.  Loneliness that threatens to crush you under its weight. 

Our gracious Lord wants you to know that this is all doing something in our lives.  These difficulties are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  (2 Corinthians 4:17)  Sometimes it feels as if God doesn’t see or care what you’re going through.  However, Scripture tells us over and over again that God sees, and he knows.  (examples – Exodus 2:25 and Genesis 16:13)  James 1 says that our trials are making us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” 

There’s a catch though.  God can’t do this work in an angry, bitter heart. 

It’s hard to accept the way our lives are versus the way we wanted them to be, but what if God is preparing you for something greater?  Joseph’s situation seemed hopeless.  For thirteen long years, he was trapped in slavery and then prison, but he didn’t turn against God.  One day, after he became ruler in Egypt (second only to Pharaoh), he was faced with the very brothers who had sold him into slavery.  He could’ve punished them, but he didn’t.  Joseph recognized that God’s hand had been on him all along, even in the darkest of times. 

If you’re struggling right now, maybe the best thing is to worship, do the best you can, and trust God with the outcome.  Remind yourself that this is hard, but it’s just a season.  Someday you’ll be past the hard times, and you’ll be able to look back and see that God has given you a story of his goodness and his grace. 

 

P.S. I occasionally treat myself to something pretty to lift my spirits.  If you need a little pick-me-up, here are links to two things I like.  Enjoy.

https://www.etsy.com/listing/639275791/blue-galaxy-theme-necklace-925-sterling?ref=yr_purchases

https://www.beautyandtheboutique.com/Daniel_Sandler_Luxury_Lipstick_p/ds-luxury-lipsticks.htm

Letting Go of What Would’ve Been

I love the movie Titanic, even though we know how it ends.  I love all of Kate Winslet’s dresses in the film.  I really could’ve lived in that day and time, as long as I was wealthy enough to dress like that.  There’s an iconic moment in the movie where she lets go of Leonardo Dicaprio’s hand so that she can be rescued.  There’s a lesson to be learned in that.

It’s a weak analogy, I know.  Her losing her love that lasted a few days is not nearly the same as losing a husband of 15+ years.  However, she had to let go to survive.  She had to let go of the past in order to move on.  To some extent, we must do the same thing.  We must make the tough choice to let go of the life we had, as well as the life we were going to have.  If we live in the past, we can’t live in the present.  If we hold on to the darkness that enveloped us when we lost our husband, it robs us of joy in the present and of hope in the future.

Letting go doesn’t mean we don’t cherish the memories we had.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t still miss our husband.  It simply means that we accept the life we now have instead of clinging to how life used to be.  Letting go means choosing the joys of each day in the here and now.  Life is certainly different without a husband, but it doesn’t mean that there’s not things we can still be grateful for and find happiness in.  It’s not the same, but in order to survive this thing, we have to quit holding on to the future we used to have and start shaping a new one.

Some days, it feels that all the cards are stacked against us.  We can take comfort in the fact that God still has a plan for us, and he also holds our future.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzkRjangfp8

 

When Mosquitoes Attack

 

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I have problems with mosquitoes.  I can be the only person in a room that’s bit by one, and I’ll end up with five bites.  They swell up like blimps and itch like crazy.

Last night, I went out to my backyard to pull weeds around my roses and lilies.  (There’s only 2 of each.  Don’t get carried away thinking I have some enormous flowerbed!)  I have a large citronella plant in close proximity to me; it doesn’t help.  The first problem was as I cleared weeds away from a tomato plant, I found a snake skin.  Now, this is actually worse than finding a snake.  Why?  Because it’s not a snake, just a sign that there is one nearby.  So what did I do?  I bribed my ten-year-old son into protecting me from snakes.  He stood guard with a large shovel and kept a lookout while I pulled weeds.  He did his job.  As I was clearing away weeds (quickly!) from a rosebush, he yelled and sure enough, there was a tiny snake behind it, up against the house.  I still have no idea where he went.  Luckily, it was just a garden snake.  I wonder why the Snake Away pellets I bought and dumped liberally around my house last month are not working with this little guy.  I finished pulling weeds without ever seeing the snake again, but not without incident.  You see, I wore some short shorts outside to pull weeds because it was really hot.  I was in my backyard where no one could see me.  The problem?  A mosquito bit me three times on my behind.  It is uncomfortable to say the least.

What does this have to do with anything?  First of all, take a lesson from me.  Don’t wear shorts if there’s mosquitos around, and have a brave boy to guard you from snakes.  Next, find humor in ordinary circumstances.  A mosquito bite on your bottom is humbling and annoying, but I have to admit, it’s also funny.  Life is hard.  It’s exhausting, and it’s difficult, and it’s hard to know what to do sometimes.  Don’t forget to find joy and humor in the throes of ordinary, everyday life.  Sometimes you have to laugh when your toddler comes in with eyeliner drawings all over himself.  I laid my two littles down with me for an opportune Sunday nap and had to smile at them playing and giggling together before they fell asleep.  It is easy to get frustrated or worn down by the struggles of single motherhood.  Don’t forget to see the joys in it too.

There are so many joys around us, if we just take the time to recognize them.  The sound of birds early in the morning.  A hug.  The smell of fresh bread baking in the oven.  Someone saying “I love you.”  All the kids staying in bed and no one getting up for an extra cup of water.  These are the things that sustain us.  Relish them.  Nehemiah 8:10 says that “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” He was talking to people whose life was difficult.  They were rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem amidst great opposition.  In fact, danger was so imminent that they worked with swords in their hands, just in case they were suddenly attacked by the enemy.

Life is hard, but gratitude and praise can be our greatest weapons against our enemy.  Sweet friend, use them.  They will be your strength, and they will keep you sane.

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Clutter and Chaos

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As I write this, my linen closet won’t shut because the blankets and sheets are strewn in the doorway and down the hall.  Why?  Because my toddler likes to play on the shelves where he climbs up and squeezes himself onto them to play.  Yesterday, he dumped oats all over the kitchen floor and distributed water all over his bathroom.  And you want to know something?  I sometimes clean these messes up when I find them (like the bathroom so nobody slipped and fell), but I sometimes leave them for later because I’m too tired to deal with them right then.

Before T died, I would do this mad scramble before he got home and tell the kids to pick up the common areas of the house so he didn’t trip on a toy as he walked in the door from work.  I still make them pick up each morning, but I’m not nearly as concerned about having a clean house as I used to be, and that’s OK.

My days are busy running kids to appointments, practices, and activities.  In between, I have to pay bills, meal plan, homeschool, cook, and do laundry.  Life feels chaotic at best, and overwhelming at worst.  I had a very structured routine and orderly life that was taken from me with the news that he was gone.  When we’re trying to do the jobs of two people plus grieving, is it any wonder that our days seem cluttered and chaotic?

So what’s the solution?  We embrace the clutter and chaos.  It may seem crazy to embrace the very thing that reminds us time and time again that our lives are different now, but in doing so, we may find precisely what our soul needs.  The clutter and chaos mean we’re still going.  It means we’ve survived.  Life is messy, but the clutter and chaos can serve as a reminder that we are honoring our husbands and our Lord by continuing to put one foot in front of the other.  We give and give and give of ourselves so that our children can have as normal of a childhood as possible, and that is something to be embraced and applauded, despite the chaos.

Today, instead of feeling guilty or discouraged because of the clutter and chaos, feel encouraged.  Smile.  Embrace it, because as we know, life is short.  The clutter and chaos mean we’re still alive, and that’s something to celebrate.  Here’s a toast to us – those of us who are fighting the good fight and still going, despite the pain.

Feelings

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You feel like you’re on a perpetual roller coaster.  You’re fine one minute, angry the next, and crying the moment after that.  It certainly doesn’t help that stress contributes to hormonal fluctuations which causes mood swings.  Your feelings are all over the place, so what do you do with them?

I didn’t struggle with depression or anxiety until after I lost Trevor.  I was pretty even-tempered, so my emotions often shocked me by how strongly I felt at times or how quickly my feelings could change.  It took a very long time (and medication) to feel anywhere near normal again.  It’s been almost two years, and yet I still struggle with mood swings.  Fortunately, they don’t occur as often, but depression is still a struggle sometimes.  When circumstances get tough or I haven’t gotten enough sleep (child #4 is still not consistently sleeping through the night!), I tend to have a relapse.  Sometimes it’s just being down or feeling overwhelmed.  Sometimes, it’s a complete, laying in my bed, sobbing for a long period of time meltdown.

First of all, it’s OK to have feelings, whatever they may be.  After going through the trauma of losing your other half, it’s perfectly normal to feel all sorts of things and to feel them intensely.  However, we have to be so careful what we do with them.  It’s easy to sin in our anger, especially by snapping verbally at our kids since they’re the ones we’re around most of the time.  It’s easy to become self-centered when we’re struggling with depression and neglect our responsibilities.  Don’t ever make a choice based solely on feelings.  According to Jeremiah, the heart is deceitful above all things.  It’s OK to feel your feelings, but don’t be lead by them.  Be lead by what you know is true.  Be lead by what the Bible says, not by what you’re feeling at the moment.

The next thing that I’ve come to realize is that I’m an emotional wreck if I feel all of my feelings and those of my kids.  I finally figured out that I was allowing myself to become depressed when one of my kids was or to become angry when one of them was upset.  Not only can I not speak wisdom into the situation when I do this, it also adds chaos to the moment.  I can help them so much more if I take a step back emotionally.  I can validate their feelings and talk through a situation with them without feeling all of what they’re feeling.  I can identify with them without taking on what they’re struggling with myself.  This may seem obvious, but I think as moms, especially single moms, we’re prone to doing this because we hurt when our kids hurt.  We have to be careful to empathize with them without taking on all of their emotional baggage.  We can talk openly with them, pray with them, and pray for them without taking on their feelings.  I have found parenting a lot less exhausting once I realized this.

Finally, there’s a few things that can help you sort through your feelings.  You can pray and ask God to help you identify what you’re feeling and why.  I have found journaling especially helpful for this.  It also can be helpful to see a Christian counselor who is trained to help you talk through your feelings.  Whatever you do, don’t stifle and ignore your feelings.  They have a way of coming out.

You can also refer to this earlier blog about things I do to help me when I’m down:

rekindlingjoy.com/2018/08/15/ways-i-coped-after-losing-my-husband/